The Impact of Out-Of-School Academic Programs

The Impact of Out-Of-School Academic Programs:
Why A Tech-Enabled Solution Is Needed to Close The Opportunity Gap For Underrepresented Students

By: Mehreen

Today, I’m launching a new project called fifty-two sprints — my year-long goal to answer 52 critical questions using design sprints.

Let me start by explaining what sparked this idea.💡

After eight of years working in schools, I decided that I wanted to try something new in my professional career. I have learned so much as an educator and have had the privilege of working with some of the best in the craft, but am ready for a change. However, I’m not sure about the what yet. So, I’ve been networking with leaders in the industries I care most deeply about — education, entrepreneurship, and technology.

In a recent conversation with a new friend Mohammed (who is absolutely brilliant), he suggested that I try design sprints — one a week — for a year. For those of you who are new to design sprints, the concept is pretty simple. Identify a problem, and give yourself just five days to prototype a solution. Each day of the week is devoted to a different aspect of the sprint. You can read more about design sprints here.

On Monday, I set my vision for the project. My goal was to create a 4-year roadmap for educators and high schools to better support underrepresented students in accessing STEM and college opportunities. (Spoiler alert: The roadmap evolved into more of a database, but read on to learn about the resulting prototype). As a teacher, I noticed that many selective summer programs and pre-collegiate opportunities — especially those targeting underrepresented groups — are often housed in spreadsheets or outdated blogs and websites like College VineCollege Greenlight, or Get Me To College to name a few. Here are some screenshots of what’s currently available:

Screenshot of Get Me To College website
Screenshot of College Greenlight (Cappex) website

I certainly am thankful that these resources have been put together, and I also know that it’s not enough. If we’re talking about ensuring that programs — especially those recruiting diverse populations — are accessible, then this is unacceptable. Tech is so much more powerful. We can and must do better.

Why do these programs matter? There is a significant body of evidence that suggests pre-collegiate/college-bound programs show an increase in college acceptance rates, enrollment, persistence, and freshman GPA. In fact, according to a discussion paper published by MIT’s Silvia Robles, a STEM-focused summer program for high-achieving, underserved high school students “triples the rate of enrollment at the host institution” (2018). Underserved can be defined as first-generation college-goers, low-income, and/or underrepresented groups in STEM such as Black, Latinx, and/or female students.

Currently, students access opportunities by word-of-mouth, through individual networks, or by navigating to university sites or other external sources. I, along with many other teachers, often spend hours sending direct emails to students encouraging them to apply to various programs. Last spring, my incredibly talented friend Namita built an MVP of a web application called Melan.In that students and admin would be able to use to both find new opportunities and provide support throughout the application process. Check out the MVP here, Namita’s GitHub here, and a full walkthrough here.

What was the resulting prototype? By the end of the week, I created an Airtable spreadsheet with selective summer and pre-collegiate programs. I still have many programs to add, but now have a common platform to house and update opportunities over time. I embedded the shareable view into a simple landing page for anyone to access. As a side-note, I came across the College Greenlight Airtable well after I began working on my prototype and used it to determine ways that I could incorporate more robust add-ons. Here were some of the features I included in my version:

  • Automation — The prototype will send notifications to users for programs with approaching deadlines and whenever new programs are added to the base. Automations will go right to a student’s inbox.
  • Integration — Students, teachers, parents, and school counselors can integrate the link right into their own Gmail or Outlook calendars.
  • Roadmap — Each program has grade level eligibility listed as well as a suggested year to pursue the program so students know which opportunities to prioritize given their age and experience while also getting a peek at what’s available to them in the future.
  • Shareable — Airtable makes it easy to edit, transfer, and share data for individual schools to customize given their region, specific needs, and any additional information they might want to store.
Screenshot of a “test email” that automatically gets sent to a student’s inbox when a new program is added.

What did I learn? The short answer — how to use Airtable. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend doing so. The interface is quite literally everything and easy for beginners. I only scratched the surface in terms of its user capabilities.

The longer answer — we must create systems and tools that rely less on educators and redesign who has access to the information and resources. How can we continue building platforms that demystify the college and career process for all students, while empowering students with the agency to explore opportunities on their own?

I certainly don’t believe this is the final (or best) solution, but if you have feedback or ideas on where to take it from here, I would love to connect. If you know of other products in this space, please share. If you are a teacher/counselor/mentor interested in piloting the prototype, I am happy to add you as a collaborator and register your students. Please reach out to me via LinkedIn or drop a line below with your email.

Teacher Diversity Matters

Teacher Diversity Matters: The Case For Leader Validation and Its Impact on Recruitment and Retention of Educators of Color

By: Mehreen

In my recent job search, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with many professional leaders in VC, startups, education, non-profits, and technology. Three that have stood out to me have been those where I have had a shared identity with the other person. In each conversation, there were brief moments where we held space for our common South Asian identity — high expectations, name pronunciations, and societal norms of brown culture to name a few.

There is something incredibly relieving about finding common ground with another person that shares your identity, culture, and/or experience. If as adults, we find comfort in communities that understand who we are, I know the same is true for kids. Representation matters. And in education, where less than 1 in 5 teachers identify as a person of color, we are doing our children a disservice if we don’t prioritize the recruitment and retention of diverse teachers and leaders.

Earlier this week, I received an email from NewSchools Venture Fundsharing the launch of their most recent funding opportunity for their Teacher Diversity portfolio. As a 4.0 SchoolsLEANLAB Education, and Teach For America alum, I often receive newsletters full of amazing opportunities to access grant funding, mentorship, and equity-free capital. Usually, I read through these lists thinking mostly about my own entrepreneurial goals, but this time, I decided to intentionally share the opportunity with a few people in my network who I know have game-changing ideas and the drive to build them.

The goal of this portfolio is to support innovative ideas focused on advancing teacher diversity. A key characteristic of the NSVF funding model — especially for this initiative — is investing in entrepreneurs and educators of color. Yes — that means if you identify as Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and/or Indigenous, they are especially looking for you to submit your idea. You can read more about the grant funding opportunity here.

Why This Matters. Research shows that students who have teachers that look like them have increased academic performance, lower suspension rates, and are more likely to pursue higher education. Read more extensive research here. So, the question is how do we increase the number of diverse teachers in the field and retain them year over year? My short answer is to give decision-making power — along with time, money, and support — to school leaders that have already proven themselves worthy of investment.

Mr. McClendon with graduating seniors in his Young And Elite program (YAE) at RePublic High School (2019).

I recently read an opinion piece by Frances Messano— President at NewSchools Venture Fund. She writes, “Validation really matters for rising leaders, and it matters even more for leaders of color. Because of systemic racism, the deck is stacked against us; the risk of failure is greater and the ability to bounce back is harder.” Read the whole op-ed here. The word validation is particularly striking to me — to know you are on the right path and doing impactful work. This week, I chose to intentionally reach out to education change-makers who are doing the heavy-lifting for our communities, and in particular, those who are ensuring their teaching staff is as diverse as the students in their school communities.

I identified 10 innovators in my network who I thought would be a great fit for this grant and shared the opportunity with them. Nine of them responded to express their interest. They are educators of color, school leaders, and advocates for racial equity. Their ideas transform student, teacher, and community thinking. They don’t just move people with their words, but rather with their actions. They are champions of change, and our school communities are better because of them.

Here are 10 powerhouses in education that you should know:

  • LaTrina Johnson-Brown (Nashville, TN): Principal of RePublic High School. Get to know her here, and read her op-eds here and here.
  • Monique Chiu (New Orleans, LA): Assistant Principal at KIPP New Orleans.
  • Emmett Denson (Nashville, TN): Director of Schools — Nashville, RePublic Charter Schools. Denson was the former principal of ReImagine Prep in Jackson, MS. Get to know him here.
  • Patrick Edmond (Jackson, MS): Principal at Smilow Prep, RePublic Charter Schools.
  • Kendrick Friendly, M.Ed. (Denver, CO): Assistant Principal of Postsecondary Success and Culture at Colorado High School Charter — Osage.
  • Halima Labi (Nashville, TN): English teacher at RePublic High School. Read her reflections here.
  • Treon McClendon, MSOL(Bloomington, IN): Associate Director for Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering and CEO and Founder of TrèTalks, LLC.
  • Mario McClunie (Nashville, TN): Co-founder of Bond+McClunie Consulting focused on youth leadership development.
  • James Sensabaugh (Nashville, TN): Dean of Students at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School. Prior instructional coach and social justice teacher.
  • Janet Wallace (Jackson, MS): Manager, Teacher Recruitment & Retention for Jackson Public Schools.

Next Steps. If we are to racially diversify the teacher pipeline, we must invest in school leaders and innovators that are already laying the groundwork. After this week, here are some questions I am still wondering about:

  • How can we catalyze the work that is already being done in our communities to scale and grow impact?
  • How can we provide more grant writing support and other in-kind services along the way to ensure that the best candidates are submitting strong applications?
  • How can we foster innovation and creativity in schools so that we can continue to design with and not for communities?
  • How can we increase the visibility of this grant and other funding opportunities to increase participation across diverse networks?

The time that it took for me to reach out to my network was minimal, but I am hopeful that it will result in a few submitted applications. To these leaders — you are doing the work. You are charting a path for others to follow behind you, and the world needs to hear your voice and see your impact. To others — I encourage you to learn more about these leaders and reach out to them if you can offer services they may benefit from. And if you have an idea of your own, I encourage you to apply.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.